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EDITORIALS

Zardari vs Nawaz Sharif
Threat to democracy in Pakistan

T
he
Pakistan Supreme Court order disqualifying PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif from electoral politics could not have been different. It was only to be expected after the former Prime Minister last week declared his resolve to participate in the proposed Long March by lawyers.

PDP protests too much
Vohra’s address shouldn’t have been disrupted

T
he
manner in which the members of the People’s Democratic Party disrupted Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra’s address to the joint session of the state legislature on Wednesday needs to be condemned. Leader of the Opposition and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and her party legislators have done a disservice to the state by forcing Mr Vohra to leave the House without completing his address. 



EARLIER STORIES

Just three years?
February 26, 2009
Terrorism is un-Islamic
February 25, 2009
‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
February 24, 2009
Modi’s claim nailed
February 23, 2009
A question of EC’s credibility
February 22, 2009
Habitual offenders
February 21, 2009
Punjab budget
February 20, 2009
Offensive against Naxalites
February 19, 2009
Appeasing the Taliban
February 18, 2009
Carry on, Pranab
February 17, 2009
More open to FDI
February 16, 2009
Pitfalls of democracy
February 15, 2009


Fear of outsourcing
US is harming its own interests

P
resident
Barack Obama has succumbed to the urge to keep jobs and capital confined to American shores. Academics call it economic nationalism. He has said he will end tax breaks for corporations that “ship our jobs overseas”. When he made similar noises in his campaign speeches, it was widely believed the pursuit of votes had temporarily gained priority over his economic vision.

ARTICLE

Surrender in Swat
No one bothers about the hapless people
by Sushant Sareen

O
n
the face of it, the furore within Pakistan and without over the imposition of Shariah law in Swat and six other districts of Malakand division in the NWFP is nothing more than a storm in a teacup. After all, Pakistan’s legal system had been Shariahised long ago, and the constitution expressly forbids any law that is repugnant to Islamic law or Shariah.



MIDDLE

Basking in the sun
by Harish Dhillon

I
t
was a blissful February Saturday with both office and School closed, no middles to write, no corrections pending, no lesson plan to be made and perfect weather. I found myself sitting on a bench in front of a bookshop in Sector 17, basking in the sun. The warmth seeped through me and healed my battered body, my exhausted mind and my bruised spirit. I couldn’t remember when I had done this last and I vowed now to do it more often.



OPED

Sri Lankan civil war enters last phase
by Lt Gen Kamal Davar (retd)

I
t
is indeed no surprise that the painfully repetitive lessons of history have never ever been imbibed by the ilk of dictators, terror chieftains and megalomaniacs. The ruthless pursuit of power to satisfy their grandiose ambitions have invariably brought to their people, followers and all those who do their bidding, voluntarily or under coercion, nothing but ruin and destruction.

Strengthening IT law
by Roopinder Singh

T
he
IT Act has been strengthened with the Information Technology Act Amendment Bill 2006, and among other things, the quantum of punishment for cyber terrorism has been increased to life imprisonment and accessing or distributing child pornography has been made illegal. However, many offences have been made bailable. The Bill awaits the President’s assent to become a law.

Delhi Durbar
Reddy still a minister

Remember a gentleman called T. Subarami Reddy. He had managed to muscle his way into the Union Council of Ministers as a minister of state for mining and somewhere midway through the tenure of the UPA regime was dropped as quietly as he was chosen.

  • Jethmalani at it again

  • All praise for Pranab

 


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Zardari vs Nawaz Sharif
Threat to democracy in Pakistan

The Pakistan Supreme Court order disqualifying PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif from electoral politics could not have been different. It was only to be expected after the former Prime Minister last week declared his resolve to participate in the proposed Long March by lawyers. The court verdict is seen as having the stamp of President Asif Ali Zardari, who had been threatening to use this most potent weapon if the Sharif brothers did not stay away from the lawyers’ agitation. Viewed as a “Zardari Hatao” drive, the agitation is to begin early next month. Mr Nawaz Sharif had argued that his refusal to participate in the march would be betrayal of his pledge to the people given during the February 2008 elections — reinstatement of all the deposed judges, including Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

President Zardari, too, is in a way committed to restoring the judicial status quo ante as he had signed an accord with Mr Nawaz Sharif during the run-up to the elections. They had struck the deal when both wanted the Musharraf regime to go. But now Mr Zardari cannot afford to get annulled all that the former military ruler did. Gen Pervez Musharraf had issued the National Reconciliation Order (NRO), declaring all the cases against Mr Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, as withdrawn. If the Zardari-Sharif accord is implemented in full, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will begin to preside over the apex court again, and he is believed to be determined to strike down all the controversial decisions, including the NRO, associated with the Musharraf regime.

Pakistan’s current Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, a Musharraf appointee, is in Mr Zardari’s good books. What has happened could have been avoided had Mr Sharif not insisted on the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry. Mr Sharif has his own game plan — create a condition for fresh elections, which suits him because of his relatively higher popularity rating. The power struggle between Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif, which has come into the open, may derail democracy once again. All this may lead to a bitter fight between the PPP and the PML (N) as it happened during the 1990s. That could mean an invitation to the army to recapture power as well as creation of conditions to be exploited by extremists. This bodes ill for democracy in Pakistan, and the sooner the confrontation subsides, the better it will be for parliamentary forces. 

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PDP protests too much
Vohra’s address shouldn’t have been disrupted

The manner in which the members of the People’s Democratic Party disrupted Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra’s address to the joint session of the state legislature on Wednesday needs to be condemned. Leader of the Opposition and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and her party legislators have done a disservice to the state by forcing Mr Vohra to leave the House without completing his address. Sadly, the national anthem could not be played and the Governor had to leave the House in a huff. The Governor’s address could not be tabled in the House as he could not complete it. It is a tribute to the people of the state that they turned out in large numbers in the recent Assembly elections and elected a government of their choice. This can be interpreted as a decisive defeat of the separatist sentiment and the acceptance of the growing appeal of participatory politics. The record turnout of 61 per cent in the polls proved that the people wanted the due democratic process to function in the strife-torn state.

Political parties may have serious differences with the government and the PDP is no exception. Indeed, this is the essence of democracy. However, creating disturbance in the legislature and preventing the Governor from reading out his address is nothing but obstructionism and against democratic norms. Since Mr Vohra was scheduled to present the policies and programmes of the Omar Abdullah government in his address, the PDP members could have listened to him and then given vent to their sentiments in the debate on the motion of thanks to the Governor.

Ever since its defeat in the elections, the PDP has been restive. Held in the wake of the Amarnath land-for-pilgrims row — which saw the PDP dump the Ghulam Nab Azad government even though its ministers cleared the proposal to side with separatists — the elections were expected to witness a low turnout. But this was not the case as the people wanted the triumph of democracy. As the PDP’s quasi-separatist plank has been rejected at the hustings and a popular government has been put in place, the PDP would do well to respect the popular sentiment and allow the government to function. Differences should be sorted out through debate in the legislature and not otherwise. 

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Fear of outsourcing
US is harming its own interests

President Barack Obama has succumbed to the urge to keep jobs and capital confined to American shores. Academics call it economic nationalism. He has said he will end tax breaks for corporations that “ship our jobs overseas”. When he made similar noises in his campaign speeches, it was widely believed the pursuit of votes had temporarily gained priority over his economic vision. But there was no apparent political urgency that led him to make these remarks in his maiden address to the US Congress on Tuesday. Americans may have realised that they have elected to the top post a man who does not seem to share their faith in free trade, open markets and globalisation. The worsening economic crisis, it seems, has clouded thinking among policymakers.

Initially, like other Democrats, Mr Obama did feel uncomfortable at the inclusion of the “Buy American” clause in the stimulus bill and got it modified. However, the prevailing climate of opinion appears to have egged him on. Even so, Mr Obama is not alone in deserting globalisation, which implies free movement of capital, goods and jobs across borders, leading to cost-cutting, skill upgradation and profit maximisation. Governments using taxpayers’ money to bail out troubled banks and companies are under pressure to keep jobs and capital within the country. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has faced protesters demanding “British jobs for British workers”. British workers have picketed refineries and power stations over the hiring of foreigners. In France, one million people marched for jobs on January 29. The trend towards “deglobalisation” is growing.

Whether or not the US firms will stop outsourcing work to Indian IT companies depends on the extent of tax relief. Some have already suspended offshoring because of recession but most will need to “ship out jobs” just to stay afloat. It is not a favour they are doing as compulsions of business and survival are driving them to cheaper destinations like China and India, more so during a downturn.

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Thought for the Day

A steady patriot of the world alone,/The friend of every country but his own. — George Canning

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Surrender in Swat
No one bothers about the hapless people
by Sushant Sareen

On the face of it, the furore within Pakistan and without over the imposition of Shariah law in Swat and six other districts of Malakand division in the NWFP is nothing more than a storm in a teacup. After all, Pakistan’s legal system had been Shariahised long ago, and the constitution expressly forbids any law that is repugnant to Islamic law or Shariah. Civil, criminal, evidence, inheritance and personal laws are all Shariah compliant, although punishments prescribed by Islamic laws have been replaced by penalties under English law.

In the specific case of Swat, once the Islamic packaging of the Nizam-e-Adl regulations (commonly interpreted as Shariah laws) is stripped away, everything is supposed to remain as it was before, except for certain procedural and structural changes in the judicial system to ensure speedy and inexpensive justice to the people.

The issue in Swat, as indeed in the rest of Pakistan, is not about Shariah. It is about who decides what is Shariah. Will this be decided by the State, or will it be decided by radical and obscurantist mullahs like Sufi Muhammad, the head of the extremist movement Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohamaddi (TNSM) and father-in-law of the leader of the Swat Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah.

Equally important is the question of whether Shariah law will be administered by judicial officers appointed by the State or by the mullah militias, better known as the Taliban. Finally, there are the cultural issues that are at the root of any interpretation of Islamic law and which draw the maximum attention and reaction. These include education of girls, employment of women, the issue of keeping beards or the sort of clothes permissible under Islam, the debate over music, dance, painting and photography, allowing women to step out of their homes unescorted by male relatives, etc.

All these issues have more to do with the exercise of temporal power rather than any spiritual cleansing of society. And this is precisely the reason why the agreement that has been stuck between the government and the Islamists is so contentious and dangerous. There are two unmistakable signals that the announcement of the Shariah deal has sent out. Firstly, it shows the desperation and helplessness of the Pakistani State in the face of the unrelenting onslaught of the Taliban, not to mention the utter failure to restore the writ and authority of the State. Second, it signals the start of the process of imposing a hard line and radical version of Islamic law on the people of Pakistan.

Caught in the middle are the hapless people of Pakistan, who have no choice but to accept this medieval and obscurantist version of Shariah because the State is either complicit or too weak to resist the Islamists. The only other option before the people is that they form their own militias to resist the Islamists. But it is highly unlikely that the ordinary people will ever be able to match the firepower, training, resources, commitment, conviction and, most of all, wanton brutality and cruelty of the Islamists.

For the moment, however, the people are supporting the Shariah deal partly because they are too scared to oppose it and partly because they hope that it will bring some kind of peace in the area, even though this may be peace of the type that reigned in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But the ambiguities that underscore the Shariah agreement, including all the riders on implementing the agreement, don’t inspire too much confidence in the prospects for peace being restored in the Malakand division.

The first major problem is that the government has tried to win on the negotiating table all that it has lost on the battlefield. Bizarrely enough, after having failed to restore the writ of the State in spite of military operations against the Islamist insurgents, the government now wants the insurgents to re-establish the authority of the state before it implements the Shariah agreement on the ground! Equally strange is the fact that the authorities have made Sufi Mohammad the lynchpin of the deal.

On the one hand, Sufi Mohammad now holds a virtual veto on certifying that Shariah has been imposed. On the other hand, he will be responsible for restoring peace, partly by using his influence on the combatants and partly by forging a counter force to deal with the recalcitrant militants.

The assumption is that Sufi Mohammad will be able to divide the Taliban ranks and will rob the insurgents of any justification for their militancy. But since the deal has been done with the non-combatants belonging to the TNSM, it is an open question as to how much influence they will wield on the gun-toting militias. Some analysts suggest that even if Fazlullah is amenable to the deal, he might not be able to deliver because he doesn’t call all the shots and there are many hardliners who could object and obstruct any acquiescence to the deal by Fazlullah.

Complicating matters is the differing interpretations about what exactly the deal entails. The government is giving the spin that the Shariah regulation will only tinker with the judicial procedures and processes. But this is not how the combatants interpret the regulations. There are reports that in the initial contacts between Sufi Mohammad and Fazlullah, the latter accepted the agreement but made it contingent on the creation of the department of prevention of vice and promotion of virtue (amr bil maroof, anil bin munkar). Effectively, this means no female education, women can’t be treated by male doctors, beards are compulsory, music and dance are forbidden and so on and so forth.

The reported insistence of the insurgents on a complete withdrawal of the Army is also likely to play a spoiler in the deal. The government insists that the Army will withdraw after peace is restored while the insurgents demand that peace will not be possible until the Army quits the area. For now, a middle path of sorts has been found with the NWFP Chief Minister saying that the security forces will henceforth not be pro-active but reactive. This is, to say the least, disingenuous because the military operations have been a total failure. Before the Army started its operations, the insurgents controlled 20 per cent of the area. After the Army moved in, the insurgents control almost 90 per cent of the area!

Part of the problem is that the Army has not been given clear terms of engagement, leading to a delayed response, which in turn opens the Army to accusations of playing a double-game. Add to this the massive collateral damage caused by the troops, the lack of public support for the military operations and the growing suspicions about the motives and objectives of the Army, all of which have resulted in extreme demoralisation in the military rank and file. The people fear the Taliban more than they fear the Army simply because they don’t trust the Army’s ability in protecting them against the Taliban.

Clearly then, the Shariah regulations smack of trying to be too clever by half by entering into tactical deals to buy temporary peace and get over the immediate crisis, without giving any thought to the long-term consequences. If this gambit succeeds, there will be a clamour by mullahs all over Pakistan to extend the Shariah regulations all over Pakistan, thereby transforming the country into a medieval emirate. On the other hand, if the move fails to satisfy the insurgents, the fighting will start all over again and engulf all of Pakistan.

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Basking in the sun
by Harish Dhillon

It was a blissful February Saturday with both office and School closed, no middles to write, no corrections pending, no lesson plan to be made and perfect weather. I found myself sitting on a bench in front of a bookshop in Sector 17, basking in the sun. The warmth seeped through me and healed my battered body, my exhausted mind and my bruised spirit. I couldn’t remember when I had done this last and I vowed now to do it more often.

A forty-something gentlemen, staggered out of the bookshop with a bagful of books and sat down besides me.

“School textbooks?” I asked.

“Yes I’ve just been transferred to Chandigarh and my child has been admitted to ——.” He named a prestigious school.

“Very good school,” I said.

“I would have preferred YPS. It is the only school that genuinely works to develop the all-round personality of the children and doesn’t limit itself to academics alone. All the children are polite, confident and well spoken.” He sounded like my Founder’s speech but I lapped up the praise anyway.

“The teachers are friendly and caring.” My head swelled with pride and I wanted to let him know that I was the Principal and claim some of the credit for this.

“I know all this because so many children from my family study there.”

“Then why didn’t you choose YPS for your child?” I knew what the answer would be — he was late because he did not know that YPS had a January-to-December academic session.

“It’s because of the Principal, Dr Dhillon. He is old and old fashioned, almost antediluvian, and has a fetish for regimental-style discipline. He supports a bald look himself and insists that all his boys have crew-cuts. He suspends children for so much as holding a mobile while in school. He treats the teachers like errant school boys and shouts at them at meetings.”

I had heard these accusations before but they had come from aggrieved parties — teachers and students, victims of my “fetish”. I had never taken them seriously. Now, coming as they did from an outsider, they served to deflate me. My head shrank to half its original size. Where before I had been itching to reveal my identity, I was now afraid that he would discover it. I was looking for an excuse to break away when one of my boys came rushing out of the bookshop and flung himself at my feet. I held him close for a while.

“I’ve bought one of your books”, he said proudly, holding it up. I could only wish that my “acquaintance” would not read my name on it.

“What a pleasant surprise, Dr Dhillon,” it was the boy’s mother. “Khushbir saw you and insisted that he had to meet his Principal Sir.”

Needless to say. I slunk away without a glance at my erstwhile companion and needless to say, I’ve now started growing my hair.

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Sri Lankan civil war enters last phase
by Lt Gen Kamal Davar (retd)

It is indeed no surprise that the painfully repetitive lessons of history have never ever been imbibed by the ilk of dictators, terror chieftains and megalomaniacs. The ruthless pursuit of power to satisfy their grandiose ambitions have invariably brought to their people, followers and all those who do their bidding, voluntarily or under coercion, nothing but ruin and destruction.

An addition to this evil band of those who have brought total misery to their people in the name of illusory freedom for the Tamils in the island nation of Sri Lanka is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) supremo, Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

Waging an insurrection since the mid-70s, characterised by matchless violence, Prabhakaran’s struggle have now entered its final hours before its now assured wipeout by the Sri Lankan forces, who have mounted a successful military campaign since July 2006 against the LTTE.

From controlling nearly one-third of territory in Sri Lanka’s north and east, the Tamil Tigers (another name for the LTTE) have been pushed into a 300 sq km area along the coast with the Sri Lankan Navy also deploying itself along the sea-lanes dominating the coastlines to prevent Prabhakaran from fleeing the battlefield.

Nearly 75,000 civilians have died since the fratricidal conflict commenced and over two lakh Tamil civilians have been displaced from their homes. A major humanitarian crisis has thus resulted with countries the world over, including India and the European Union, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, international agencies like the Red Cross and the International Human Rights Commission voicing their concerns over the ongoing violence and consequently the misery heaped on innocent civilians by both the LTTE and the government forces.

The Tamil Tigers must hang their heads in utter shame that they are resorting to their trademark tactics of suicide bombers now against their own poor Tamils in relief camps who were fleeing from the LTTE’s clutches, as the LTTE killed 30 on February 9 using a poor Tamil girl as the suicide member.

The LTTE had been, for the record, declared a terrorist organisation by 32 countries, including the UN, India, the US, the UK and the European Union. India, of course, can never pardon Prabhakaran for masterminding the gruesome assassination of India’s ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi while he was on an election campaign in Tamil Nadu in 1991.

Prabhakaran feared that if elected again, Rajiv might send in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka once again and his ambitions to establish an independent state named Tamil Elam in the north and east of the island might get thwarted.

The Sri Lankan civil war has been, since 1983, an on-and-off civil war between the predominantly Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers. After over two decades of consistent fighting, marred by gross human rights violations by both the LTTE and the government troops and three failed attempts at peace talks including the not-so-successful deployment of the IPKF from 1987 to 1990, a ceasefire agreement came into force in early 2002 with international mediation.

However, as there were allegations of violations of the ceasefire and human rights by both sides, the fragile ceasefire broke down in late 2005.In July 2006, the Sri Lankan forces mounted a well-planned major offensive against the LTTE and drove them out of the entire Eastern province of the island. The Sri Lankans then shifted their offensive towards the northern part of the Tamilian strongholds, destroyed a major portion of the Sea Tigers naval vessels and ensured, with international assistance, a crackdown on overseas funding for the LTTE.

Thus over 98 per cent territory, previously controlled by the LTTE, including their administrative capital Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s main military base at Mullaithivu and the entire A9 highway (Kandy-Jaffna), has fallen to the government forces with Prabhakaran’s whereabouts not clearly known.

Though both Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and his Army Chief, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, have expressed that 2009 will be the “year of heroic victory” and “ the end of terrorism is near” respectively, the beleaguered Tamil Tigers have been issuing press statements that they will continue to fight on.

However, some experts feel that the LTTE may change its tactics and while they may have been defeated as a conventional force, may resort to an underground guerrilla campaign, which is essentially their expertise honed over long years of insurgency in Sri Lanka.

On February 3 the US, Japan, Norway and the European Union issued a joint statement urging the LTTE to lay down the arms and end all hostilities and prevent further bloodshed especially to the thousands of innocent Tamil civilians, who have been caught in the crossfire and with some being used as human shields by the LTTE.

India has much in stake in neighbouring Sri Lanka owing to both geo-strategic aspects of the region and importantly, the ethnic kinship between our Tamils and those who reside in Sri Lanka. The last two decades have, however, seen some ups and downs in Indo-Sri Lankan relations.

The wily Sri Lankan President J Jayawardene in the late 80s cleverly used the IPKF and the India-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 to essentially promote his country’s interests whilst the IPKF did his dirty work of fighting the LTTE, losing over 1,100 soldiers in the bargain apart from Rajiv Gandhi’s unfortunate and untimely death at the hands of the LTTE.

Subsequently, the next Sri Lankan President Premadasa was hardly cordial towards to India and consistently flirted with the Chinese and Pakistanis at Indian expense, while being a Sinhalese chauvinist in his approach to matters concerning its own Tamilian population.

In case they had implemented with some sincerity the 1987 accord which recommended powers to the Tamils and merging of the eastern and northern provinces for a Tamil state on the lines of states in India, perhaps there would have been some peace in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the Government of India has been active in the past few months in urging the currently very friendly Rajapakse Sri Lankan dispensation to call off all operations so that further casualties of innocent Tamil civilians do not take place.

Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan government has a window of opportunity which it has not had for decades. As it completes successfully its military campaign against the LTTE, it must find an amicable political solution to the ethnic conflict, which takes into consideration genuine aspirations of its Tamil population.

The suggestions made to the Sri Lankan government by Mr Pranab Mukherjee during his flying visit to the island on January 27 urging for devolution of powers as the major solution to this ethnic conflict could provide the healing touch to this beautiful, albeit terrorism-ravaged, island.

The Sri Lankan government must work for a genuine federal state and curb Sinhalese extremist tendencies. As it has done in the past, India must continue to be generous in its humanitarian aid to their hapless people.

The writer was the first Chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency. These are his personal views.

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Strengthening IT law
by Roopinder Singh

The IT Act has been strengthened with the Information Technology Act Amendment Bill 2006, and among other things, the quantum of punishment for cyber terrorism has been increased to life imprisonment and accessing or distributing child pornography has been made illegal. However, many offences have been made bailable. The Bill awaits the President’s assent to become a law.

There is no doubt that with the increasing use of the Internet in India, more and more instances of misuse are cropping up, and thus there is need to plug the loopholes in the legal framework.

Such loopholes become evident when we take the recent case of a video of a Noida girl doing striptease that has been making the rounds on the Internet. The video was distributed widely through the Net apparently after her estranged boyfriend released it.

Both are B-school students and now the police has registered a case under section 506 and 507 (threat to murder) of the IPC since the victim's family has not complained about the MMS scandal.

Why was the case not registered under the IT Act? The police version is that no complaint was made about the MMS, another fact is that the police felt that the provisions of the Act are not strong enough.

The Internet became commercially available in India in 1995 and since then, there have been only a few convictions for IT-related crimes.

In April 2001, following a complaint regarding vulgar remarks about a girl studying in Class XI and her classmates, the police in Delhi arrested a male class fellow of the girl who had made the website. The case went to the juvenile court.

In 2003, a person was convicted for a credit card fraud. It was the nation’s first cyber conviction through the CBI, though the IT Act was not invoked, and the man was convicted under sections 418, 419 and 420 of IPC.

The first case convicted under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act 2000 in India related to the posting of obscene messages about a woman on the Internet and resulted in the conviction, in 2004, of a spurned suitor from Mumbai.

There have been a few other convictions, but governments the world over are struggling to deal with crimes perpetuated on the Internet, and since criminals can be located far away from where the crime takes place, there are many problems of jurisdiction and geographical boundaries.

It was the United Nations that took the lead. On January 30, 1997, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law adopted the Model Law on Electronic Commerce, which recommended that in view of the need for uniformity of the law applicable to alternatives to paper-based methods of communication and storage of information, all countries make their laws similar to the model law.

The E-Commerce Act 1998, brought out by the Ministry of Commerce, was a response to the UN’s recommendation. When the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology was formed, it steered the “Information Technology Bill 1999” which was notified into an Act with effect from October 17, 2000.

Because of the constantly changing situation in the cyber world, amendments to the Act became necessary and following the recommendations of an expert committee, the Amendment Bill 2006 was passed by Parliament on December 23, 2008.

Among the crimes that have been defined in the Act are child pornography, cyber terrorism, phishing, cyber stalking, defamation, impersonation and stealing passwords, and spam.

While there is do doubt that the full might of the law should be used to curb crimes, there are doubts about how effective such laws are in the absence of sensitising those who will implement the law, especially the police.

While the feeling of impunity among those who misuse the Internet should no doubt go, at the same time there are concerns that the government’s control over IT has been ratcheted up a bit too much.

There is too much focus on adding new forms of cyber crimes but not enough concern about privacy of users. There are not enough provisions to deal with issues like integrity of data and breach of privacy.

For example, there are apprehensions that Section 66A can be misused. The section seeks to punish by imprisonment up to two years and a fine, anyone who uses cell phones, PDAs, etc., to communicate any text, video, audio or image that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any content to annoy, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, etc.

While a few would argue with the first part of the statement, many forums on the Internet are worried that the later part would give ammunition to an estranged friend to carry on a vendetta.

Like other Bills passed by our lawmakers in a hurry at the end of the last Parliament’s session, the IT Act amendment too needed to be studied and debated more. While the idea of keeping the Net clean is appealing and the government has done well to plug many loopholes in the existing law, we must remember that cyber crime is here to stay, and we need concerted efforts through various agencies to fight it.

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Delhi Durbar
Reddy still a minister

Remember a gentleman called T. Subarami Reddy. He had managed to muscle his way into the Union Council of Ministers as a minister of state for mining and somewhere midway through the tenure of the UPA regime was dropped as quietly as he was chosen.

Reddy is better known in political circles for his ability to secure the presence of film stars, particularly starlets, on public occasions. And that is why his dinners were the talk of the town, occupying page 3 in newspapers.

But once he became a minister he seemed to concentrate more on financial activities and generally forgot all about dinners – something which might have compelled the UPA managers to drop him from the government.

All the same a visitor to his Purana Qila Road residence might continue to believe that Subarami Reddy is still a minister for the gentleman continues to have his minister of state name plate prominently displayed outside the bungalow.

Jethmalani at it again

Ram Jethmalani, who is known to speak his mind, did not mince words when he was speaking in Parliament on the Bill to raise the salaries of the Supreme Court and high court judges.

The grand old man of the Indian legal system thundered " I have stopped reading judgements as they have become unreadable". He went on to add that some of the judgements handed out of the Supreme Court were worse than the judgements handed out by magistrates of the erstwhile Presidencies of Madras and Bombay.

He did not spare his fellow lawyers too. "There are very few lawyers who can speak their mind without fear. Most of the lawyers are sycophants”, he said.

The only solution to arrest the fall in the standards was to appoint competent people in the judiciary, he said.

All praise for Pranab

Pranab Mukherjee earned fulsome praise of even his adversaries after his reply to the debate on the interim budget in the Rajya Sabha. In fact, one BJP leader wanted to seek a clarification but his senior colleague S S Ahluwalia advised him to remain quiet.

As soon as Pranab completed his speech, Brinda Karat and D Raja from aong the Communists walked up to the minister's seat and congratulated him.

Arun Shourie, who was critical of the budget proposals of the minister, also came to Mukherjee and shook hands with him. Econimic wizards like N K Singh and C Rangarajan were also impressed with Mukherjee's reply.

It seems the UPA's man for all seasons, as the dada is popularly known, is becoming popular even with his die-hard opponents.

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, Ajay Banerjee and Ashok Tuteja

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